Eranthis question

Jim McKenney
Wed, 11 Aug 2004 07:11:53 PDT
John, Eranthis hyemalis is among my favorite plants. They are wonderful
used alone in quantity; and a traditional combination is that of Eranthis
hyemalis  and common snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis. 

But I should warn you of some potential problems. First of all, especially
if you plant to purchase in quantity, try to get assurances from your
supplier that they will supply the one you want. In my limited experience,
orders for Eranthis hyemalis frequently bring Eranthis cilicicus (note the
spelling, I think anthis has officially been changed to masculine). As
garden plants, these have important differences. E. hyemalis blooms earlier
and under my conditions persists and spreads. E. cilicicus blooms later,
does not spread and seems to eventually die out. Of course, it may perform
differently under your conditions. 

E. cilicicus tends to have larger flowers on taller "stems", and typically
has dark bronze "stems" which contrast nicely with the flowers. 

In our area, E. hyemalis can be very early - if you know where to look, the
yellow buds can sometimes be seen very early in the year, although full
flowering waits for a spell of clement weather. E. cilicicus on the other
hand peaks weeks later. 

In either case, get the little tubers as early as possible and soak them
immediately upon arrival. If you can't plant them immediately, spread them
out on the ground in a shady place. Back in the bad old days, losses among
these tubers were high. But I've read that growers now treat them with
horticultural wax to help keep them from dessication. (Can anyone confirm

Rabbits will not bother Eranthis. But they will mow down any crocus above

The crocus selections you mention are standard, good varieties. I wouldn't
want to be without those, but if I were planting a new place, the one I
would want above all other late winter flowering crocus is Crocus
tommasinianus. This is nothing like the cultivar you mention (Ruby Giant).
Plain old Crocus tommasinianus is one of the most beautiful crocus I know:
the outside of the flower is silvery, and the inside is rich amethyst. When
the flowers are closed in the morning, especially if it is a frosty
morning, they are not conspicuous. But when they start to open, the intense
amethyst of the inside is revealed and the effect is wonderful. This one
seeds itself around freely, and sometimes one sees it spread through a nice
patch of lawn in old gardens. 

And that reminds me: the best way to get either Eranthis hyemalis or plain
old Crocus tommasinianus is to get them from other gardeners. Each is easy
if slow from seed. The Eranthis seed is ripe in this area in late April
(the third week in most years); the Crocus seed is ripe in mid-May. 

For a fall blooming crocus, the one to have is Crocus speciosus. It comes
in a white variety, but the "blue" ones are wonderful in a mass. They also
seed around unobtrusively. Ask your supplier for prices per thousand. : )

Crocus kotschyanus is widely available; some forms are lovely, some not
worth having. All are such a pale opalescent pinkish white that they do not
make much of an impression in masse, but they are lovely to look at close
at hand. 

Little Crocus ochroleucus blooms here around Thanksgiving. 

You mention Crocus sativus: most of us don't find this one to be very free
flowering, but its fragrance earns it a spot in this garden. 

There are lots of other fall-blooming crocus, and all are lovely or at
least interesting. But Crocus speciosus is the one to start with, and if
you never get beyond that one, you have already seen the best the genus has
to offer for the autumn.

As for companion plants, lots of Arum italicum and Helleborus foetidus give
the garden a deceptively green and growing look throughout the winter here,
and should work in your zone 5 OH garden. 

You might want to consider Cyclamen coum and C. hederifolium - check with
local growers to see if they do well in that part of OH. 

Another nice little one is Scilla bifolia. Puschkinia and Chionodoxa are
reliable, too, but maybe too late for what you have in mind. 

Garden hellebores too are a good choice for providing very early flower

Sorry, I'm wandering. 

One final comment: if you've been reading those English books which
celebrate the pleasures of the winter garden, get a grip. They are not for
us. In short, nothing blooms during frozen periods of lock down, although
the plants mentioned above will tough it out and be there to pop into
action when the milder weather returns. 

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7, where in many years the
winter garden is a thing more likely to be desired than to be actually

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